Chinese Whispers

10,Mar,2011

Martian Wheatley, who has held the post of Securities and Futures Commission’s chief executive in Hong Kong for six years, will step down in the coming months.

Despite having been the top securities regulator in the city for six years, Mr Wheatley does not speak any Cantonese; and claims this has been an advantage.

This being because he often did not know what was really being said about, or even to him. His interpreters frequently mistranslated messages so as to not offend Mr Wheatley:

Calls of “Resign!” by angry investors who blamed him for failing to protect their money, were interpreted as: “You might want to look for other positions…”

Similarly, “You’re incompetent!” was passed to Mr Wheatley through his earpiece as “Perhaps you could have done better…”

Only when a colleague asked Mr Wheatley how he could remain so calm under such abuse did he realise he was not getting a true picture.

Though Mr Wheatley claimed this gave him an advantage, in truth it is far more important to get a true and accurate translation or interpretation than it is to worry about causing offence, if you were closing an important business deal, interviewing a witness in court, or having medical instructions translated, then accuracy would be your highest concern.

Source: http://blogs.wsj.com/exchange/2011/03/09/happily-lost-in-translation/